Figures from the world of politics have praised Sir Mo Farah as “truly inspirational” and a “great Briton” after he revealed he was trafficked into the UK as a child.
The four-time Olympic champion, 39, revealed in the BBC documentary The Real Mo Farah how he was brought to Britain from Somalia illegally having assumed the name of another child, after his father was killed in the civil war.
Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi praised Sir Mo as a “truly inspirational” role model after the revelations.
Asked how it made him feel reading Sir Mo’s story, the Tory leadership hopeful told BBC Breakfast: “Heartbroken, painful. I was very lucky that I had my parents with me when we fled Iraq.
“It was difficult, no doubt, I was 11 years old, I didn’t understand why we were fleeing Saddam Hussein, I knew he was a dictator, I knew he was bad.
“All I can say is I salute Mo Farah. What an amazing human being to go through that trauma in childhood, and to come through it and be such a great role model is truly inspirational – and exemplary.”
Similarly, London Mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted his support for the Olympian.
“Everything Sir Mo has survived proves he’s not only one of our greatest Olympians but a truly great Briton.
“@Mo_Farah thank you for sharing your story & shining a spotlight on these awful crimes. We must build a future where these tragic events are never repeated,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Labour MP Yvette Cooper tweeted: “This is incredible bravery.
“Unimaginable what @Mo_Farah has been through. Child trafficking is the worst of crimes.
“His courage & strength in speaking out must be an urgent spur for much stronger action to help all those affected & to stop this terrible crime.”
Lisa Nandy, shadow secretary of state for levelling up, said the athlete’s decision to speak out could be a “gamechanger”.
“I spent a decade working with children who were trafficked to the UK and everything about this is heartbreaking,” she wrote.
“But it could also be a gamechanger so thank you @Mo_Farah for having the courage to speak out.”
Following the shock announcement, Sir Mo said he is “really proud” of the documentary, which enabled him to “address and learn more” about his past and his journey to Britain.
Speaking in the documentary, he revealed “the truth is I’m not who you think I am,” adding he needs to tell his real story “whatever the cost”.
The father-of-four, 39, said: “Most people know me as Mo Farah but it’s not my name or it’s not the reality.
“The real story is I was born in Somaliland, north of Somalia, as Hussein Abdi Kahin. Despite what I’ve said in the past, my parents never lived in the UK.
“When I was four my dad was killed in the civil war, you know as a family we were torn apart.
“I was separated from my mother, and I was brought into the UK illegally under the name of another child called Mohamed Farah.”
Sir Mo, who became the first British track and field athlete to win four Olympic gold medals, said his children have motivated him to be truthful about his past.
In the documentary, a barrister tells Sir Mo that although he was trafficked into the country as a small child and he told the relevant authorities the truth, there is still a “real risk” his British nationality could be taken away as it was obtained by misrepresentations.
But it is understood the Home Office will not be taking any action against Sir Mo and he will not be deprived of his citizenship.
The department’s guidance makes clear it assumes a child is not complicit in gaining citizenship by deception, stating: “If the person was a child at the time the fraud, false representation or concealment of material fact was perpetrated (that led to citizenship), the caseworker should assume that they were not complicit in any deception by their parent or guardian.”
Asked about the revelations, a Number 10 spokesman said of the Olympic champion: “He is a sporting hero, he is an inspiration to people across the country.
“It is a shocking reminder of the horrors that people face when they are trafficked. And we must continue to clamp down on these criminals who take advantage of vulnerable people.”
Asked if the Home Office would be taking any action against Sir Mo, he said: “Absolutely not. I think the Home Office has been very clear that no action whatsoever will be taken against Sir Mo and that is in line with the guidance.”
Speaking to his wife in the documentary, Sir Mo said: “I don’t think I was ever ready to say anything – not because you want to lie, but because you’re protecting yourself.
“(I) think you only realise later on down the line it’s OK to let things out and say how it happened.
“But in this, I think you know I was trafficked and that’s what it feels like.”
The documentary ends with Sir Mo speaking to the real Mohamed Farah whose identity he took entering the UK, before adding Sir Mo will continue to go by the name he was given when he entered the UK.
Celebrities including Judi Love and David Baddiel were among those to voice their support for the athlete, describing him as a “hero” who has made people “proud to be British”.
Comedian Baddiel shared a picture of the pair, writing: “Whether he’s Sir Mo Farah or Hussein Abdi Kahin he’s a hero.”
Comedian and presenter Love added: “You just never know what someone is carrying.”
The Real Mo Farah will air at 6am on BBC iPlayer and 9pm on BBC One on July 13.